TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Less than six months before the November elections, campaign-finance reports point to a relatively small number of competitive races for state House and Senate seats.
All 120 House seats and 20 of the 40 Senate seats will be on the ballot, but only a handful of incumbents --- and almost none in the Senate --- face challengers who are raising substantial amounts of money.
Much of the action in the coming months appears likely to play out in House districts where incumbents face term limits or have decided against seeking re-election. Fundraising is not the only indicator of competitive races, but it can signal whether candidates have support from influential players in their communities and in Tallahassee and whether they will be able to afford to buy ads during campaign crunch times.
As an example of what appears to be a competitive race for an open seat, Jacksonville Republicans Jay Fant and Paul Renner have already combined to raise more than $347,000 as they run for the House District 15 seat, which will be vacated by Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville. Fant had raised $190,683 through April 30 --- and loaned his campaign another $186,500 --- while Renner had raised $156,550, according to newly filed campaign-finance reports.
Another Republican battle, meanwhile, could take place in Sarasota County's House District 74, which Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, will leave this fall because of term limits. Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez had raised $180,781 through April, while Nokomis Republican Richard DeNapoli had raised $79,161 and loaned his campaign $150,000, the reports show.
As an example on the Democratic side, Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw had raised $164,719 through April, while one of his opponents in House District 61, Ed Narain, had raised $84,246. They are competing to replace term-limited Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa.
Incumbents often have substantial advantages in raising money and building campaigns, which helps lead to political up-and-comers waiting to run for open seats. The dearth of competitive newcomers is most apparent in the Senate, where incumbents are seeking re-election in each of the 20 seats.
The top Senate non-incumbent fundraiser is Madeira Beach Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan, who had collected $82,402 in cash and $22,585 in in-kind contributions through April as she seeks to unseat Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, in District 22. Brandes had raised $409,465 in cash and received $77,943 in in-kind contributions. Like all other lawmakers, Brandes also was barred from raising money during the 60-day legislative session that ended May 2.
As of April 30, only 14 non-incumbent House candidates had raised more than $100,000 in cash for their campaigns, and 11 of them were running for open seats.
Of those 14, the top fundraiser was DeFuniak Springs Republican Brad Drake, a former House member who stepped aside in 2012 after reapportionment put him in the same district as Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna. With Coley facing term limits this year, Drake is running in Northwest Florida's District 5 and had raised $231,405 through April.
Not all of the top non-incumbent fundraisers, however, are running for open seats. For instance, Coral Gables Republican Daniel Diaz Levya had raised $173,262 through April as he challenges Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, in House District 112. Rodriguez had raised $134,399.
As another example, Tarpon Springs Republican Chris Sprowls had raised $145,041 in his bid to unseat Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, in Pinellas County's House District 65. Zimmermann had raised $63,351.
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